2837: Odyssey

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Ugh, it says they attempted delivery but "Nobody was home."
Title text: Ugh, it says they attempted delivery but "Nobody was home."


In this comic Cueball receives a birthday present from Ponytail: a translation of the Iliad, by Emily Wilson. The Iliad is an Ancient Greek epic poem authored by Homer about the 10-year long Trojan War which involved some of the most noteworthy warriors and leaders of that age. Wilson published her translation of the Iliad in September 2023, several weeks before the release of this comic.

Cueball then orders the Odyssey, Wilson's earlier translation of another well known epic poem of ancient Greece. In the story, a Trojan War hero named Odysseus journeys home. Wilson published this translation in 2017, to great acclaim, for various reasons, one being that Wilson was the first translator into English who used words that showed the original connotations better(such as 'hounded' instead of 'bitch' and slaves instead of servants).

At the start of his journey in the Odyssey(which takes place in the middle of the poem in a flashback, as the epic starts in media res), Odysseus and his crew are blown off course, and instead arrive at the island of the Lotus-Eaters. This begins a string of misfortunes and adventures which result in it taking another 10 years before Odysseus would make it home. In the comic, the same initial fate befalls the book delivery, and in expectation of a similarly tortuous journey, it is projected to arrive in 2033, 10 years after Cueball ordered the book, instead of the original 2 days(assuming that the day of ordering is the same as the day of the comic's release).

Package delays are not uncommon, and tracking websites can often cause more frustration than comfort and enlightenment, thanks to obscure status updates, and repeatedly deferred 'expected' delivery dates. However, anticipated 10-year delays, and status changes due to weather conditions and blissed out islanders are a bit more rare. The implication is that the package carrier was at sea after departing the warehouse and found themself swept onto the island and ate of the lotus flower, causing them to not want to leave and continue the delivery.

The title text refers to a moment in the Odyssey when Odysseus escapes from the cyclops Polyphemus. Odysseus, when introducing himself to Polyphemus, gives his name as "Nobody" (or in Wilson's translation, as Noman). After Odysseus has drugged him with drink and blinded him, the Cyclops cries out that "Nobody is attacking me!" Hearing this, Polyphemus's cyclops neighbors (quite reasonably, seeing that he is also drunk) misinterpret his words as meaning that nobody is attacking him (and therefore he is not being attacked), believe there is no reason to help and return to their homes, allowing Odysseus and his remaining crew to escape.

A frustration that is sometimes experienced by those awaiting packages is that a tracker will update to claim that the item couldn't be delivered because there was no-one available to receive it, despite having waited in for it at the appointed time, presumably because the courier falsely recorded an attempt in order to skip having to make the delivery. In this case, though, the suggestion is that someone named "Nobody" was at the delivery address, and when the package carrier (or automated delivery robot) approached the front door, and was told that "Nobody is home", they decided not to deliver the package, much to Cueball's chagrin. The frustrations of e-commerce have previously featured in 281: Online Package Tracking.


[Ponytail, Cueball and Hairy are standing in a room, each wearing a party hat. Ponytail is to the left of Cueball and Hairy. Cueball is in the middle, holding something, presumably a present.]
Ponytail: Happy birthday!
Cueball: Oh cool, Emily Wilson's Iliad translation!
[Cueball is now alone, sitting at a laptop. He has taken his party hat off and put it onto a book on his desk.]
Cueball: I never read her Odyssey. I should order that, too.
[Arising from computer screen:]
The Odyssey (2017)
Emily Wilson
Arrives Friday
[Cueball clicks order]
[The computer now says the book has left the warehouse and will arrive on Friday by 8pm.]
Package Tracking
Order Status:
Expected: Friday by 8pm
[Cueball clicks refresh]
[The computer now says the book has been swept by winds to the island of lotus eaters and might arrive around 2033.]
Package Tracking
Swept by winds
to the island of
the lotus eaters
Expected: ?? 2033 ??
[Cueball clicks refresh]

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oh boy! first comment + no explanation! did i sign this correctly? 21:37, 4 October 2023 (UTC)

yes, yes you did. Me[citation needed] 22:38, 5 October 2023‎ (UTC)

added transcript, probably could be done better but i don't have the time right now to look at formatting guides Me[citation needed] 22:03, 4 October 2023 (UTC)

ok maybe i did but someone can make it better Me[citation needed] 22:16, 4 October 2023 (UTC)
messed with transcript more, it has divs now Me[citation needed] 03:19, 5 October 2023 (UTC)
im removing the divs Me[citation needed] 14:28, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

In Emily Wilson's translation of the Odyssey (paperback edition), she writes that Odysseus says, "My name is Noman. / My family and friends call me Noman" (9.366-367). So given that the comic is about Emily Wilson's translation, shouldn't the title text say, "Noman was home," not "Nobody was home"? AoPS is superior (talk) 22:35, 4 October 2023 (UTC)

It would depend upon how the original fit within the language. "Οὖτις" ('Outis') is "no one"/"nobody"/"not somebody" rather than "no man" ("man" is "ᾰ̓νήρ", roughly 'aner' and led towards "andras" in less ancient Greek, but I don't right now know how to inflect the "ou" prefix for "no"). Wilson's translation is probably borrowing the general "might be a name"ness and combining it with modern "Norman"-like names to go beyond the literal and give it 'ear-feel'.
The trouble with that is the Macbeth/Witch-King thing whereby "no man" (of woman born, in the case of the former) is said to be able to defeat them, only for a caesarian-delivered individual to get the chance to overcome the resulting hubris in the former case and a tag-team of hobbit and woman (and arguments about which was most important!) in the latter. "No man" has baggage. (With getting hit by an exploding sundial also maybe another unforzeen Achilles' Heel for such fate-determined individuals!)
Yes, possibly by letting these specific translations be canon, I could see it being inportant to stick to their term but... there's so much detail and the rest of the multivolume works probably differ (if you're being exact) from the rest of the paradoic reference here. So not sure it's worth worrying about this. ;) Any more than we don't describe people as having a "swollen foot complex". ;p 00:52, 5 October 2023 (UTC)
It could Randall hasn’t read the book either, but instead ordered the sequel rather than reading it. It could also be an editor was trying to help us think about the causes of these things. Criminals can force victims to deny their existence, stimulating psychological dissociation where you actually think “nobody” is causing your addiction; small things can help people connect the dots more safely. 13:28, 5 October 2023 (UTC)
Maybe Cueball has a dog named Nobody, and the courier refused to complete the delivery for fear of being bitten. 16:28, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

It's the 21st century. He should have ordered it as an e-book. Barmar (talk) 23:51, 4 October 2023 (UTC)

"This file type was not recognised. It may be protected by BeggarDRM." 08:28, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

The current transcript text describes the "Refresh" click as coming after the displayed screen contents. I could be wrong, but I thought the clicks on "Refresh" actually caused the display presented in the panel. Anyone else think the same thing? Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 01:44, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

I initially agreed with you, but noting the "order" process appears to happen at the end of one panel and its result in the next, I feel it's appropriate to maintain the refresh as "after" the content. But it sure does feel unnatural. 02:24, 5 October 2023 (UTC)
I thought about that as well, which is why I didn't go ahead and change it without asking. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 03:13, 5 October 2023 (UTC)
i put them at the end because they're lower than the rest of the text in the panel Me[citation needed] 03:23, 5 October 2023 (UTC)
More likely it's happening before, after, and several times subsequently - i.e. it's a single 'Refresh' that stands for repeated refreshing. 08:32, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

Not why the explanation suggests that buying more books than you read only happens because 'technology and marketing slowly addicts us'. Clearly whoever wrote this hasn't met many bibliophiles or book collectors. It's not a new phenomenon -- or a bad one! I suggest looking up the concept of an antilibrary.... Zoid42 (talk) 14:35, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

This antilibrary thing is a strange and vaguely unpleasant concept to me. Preservation of antique texts or something is one thing, but a collection of standard-edition books you have no intention to read feels... perverse feels close to the right word. Like having a collection of paintings you lock in a closet and refuse to show to anyone, or a workshop that you refuse to use. Scorpion451 (talk) 18:40, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

The Odyssey is just the most elaborate "Why were you so late getting home from work?" excuse in history. 14:45, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

Anyone else think XKCD has kind of gone downhill? This comic doesn't quite seem as high quality as some of his work a few years ago. Is there any reason for this that could be added to the explanation? 23:10, 5 October 2023 (UTC)

Not really. I enjoyed this one - laughed out loud (literally) at it, in fact. Different things are always going to appeal to different people, and occasionally you'll get a run of them that don't speak to you. 08:26, 6 October 2023 (UTC)
Given that this opinion would be entirely subjective (not every comic's a winner, certainly, but different people would suggest different non-winners), probably not going to be a valid Explanation addition.
Some might want a lot more Map Of The Internet-type things, rather than Gravity/Escape Velocity things. I'm sure there'd be fans of Barrel Boy, or Time or even further Up-Goer Five stuff (which, after all, spawned a book!) in returning.
But something new is something new. And it's not all 'classicist' humour. Or the latest Exploits Of A Mum/Blackhat/White Beret/... It'd be boring if it were, or chasing Erdoz/Euler jokes incessantly. But part of the fun (for me... YKmMV) is never quite knowing what the next comic might look like. 11:15, 6 October 2023 (UTC)

To the person whose edit I just reverted: First off, sorry, I hate reverting edits. But if you really think that the reason the cyclopes don't help Polyphemus is because they think Nobody is the name of a god, rather than just meaning nobody, please offer up a citation of some sort, because that is not the standard interpretation of the text by any means. We can certainly include it as an alternate interpretation, but some sort of source would be good. 19:57, 9 October 2023 (UTC)

Everyone: Nobody can defeat Super Mario.
The guy named Nobody: Y'all sure about that?! Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 15:30, 24 April 2024 (UTC)